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14th Apr


Dance Studies

Studies that have examined the influence of aerobic exercise on the aging brain show that fitness is positively associated with increased brain volumes in frontal and hippocampal regions, and with increased functional connectivity between regions of the default mode network.33, 49 Aerobic exercise is associated with increased neurogenesis, angiogenesis, production of neurotrophic molecules, and synaptic plasticity.32, 34, 35, 49, 50 Despite these promising results and widely reported benefits of exercise in both scientific and popular media, exercise participation is low among young-old (6% 65–74y) and rare among old-old (4% >75y).51 Seniors often have the least access and opportunity for exercise.51 Hence, investigation into alternate modalities to deliver the cognitive benefits of aerobic activities is warranted.


Dancing stimulates multiple processes within the cognitive apparatus, including visual and auditory perception and the

capacity to follow instructions.52-54 Compared to other aerobic exercises, dancing has additional benefits of stimulating emotions and promoting social interactions.18, 55-57 Thus, dancing might be a more effective mind-body modality to improve cognitive function than other exercises. The National Endowment of Arts estimates that almost 2 million adult Americans engaged in social dancing.  Despite the popularity of dancing, there is very little scientific investigation of the cognitive benefits of dancing and underlying mechanisms, especially among older adults.


We reported that dancing was the only one among 11 physical activities that had cognitive protective benefits in older adults; frequent social dancers had 76% reduced risk of developing dementia compared to non-dancers.14 However, when we compared older social dancers and non-dancers matched for age, gender, and education, cognitive performance was similar in both groups though dancers had better balance and gait.58  The cross-sectional design and equal level of participation in cognitively stimulating activities (other than dance) by both groups may explain the lack of significant cognitive differences.58 Kimura and Hozumi reported that 17 older adults reduced task switching costs after participating in a 40-minute dance program.59 Kattenstroth and colleagues tested 62 ballroom dancers (16.5 y dancing) and 38 non-dancers matched for gender, education, and age.57  Dancers in this study demonstrated higher performance on cognitive and physiological measures; they also scored higher on a questionnaire that evaluated general health, subjective well-being, and tasks of daily living.57 In a follow-up study, the same investigators reported that 25 older adults who attended a one-hour group dance class for a six-month period (60 min/1 x wk) showed significant improvements in cognition (memory, visuo-spatial ability, language, and attention), reaction times, sensory-motor performance and lifestyle but none in maximal aerobic capacity.55 Improved performance on a Walking While Talking task (our primary outcome) was reported following a 12-week dance video game intervention in older adults (mean age 86y).60, 61 Coubard et al observed improved executive function (task switching) after 5–7 months among participants in a dance program compared with demographically similar groups that engaged in Tai Chi lessons or a fall prevention program.62




There is almost no information on neuroplasticity effects of multimodal activities such as dance.53 Multiple brain areas including medial superior parietal lobule (navigation), anterior cerebellar vermis and frontal subcortical areas were reported to be activated by dance simulation in a fMRI study of younger amateur dancers.53 Some support for plasticity effects of multimodal interventions comes from the Experience Corps study (a program where older adults engage in support and literacy activities for elementary teachers – but no dance). Carlson et al reported that older adults who were highly engaged in the Experience Corps intervention showed an increase in prefrontal activity as well as improved executive function.76, 77



51.       Nagi SZ. An epidemiology of disability among adults in the United States. Milbank Mem Fund Q Health Soc. 1976;54(4):439-467.PubMed PMID: 137366.

52.       Blasing B, Calvo-Merino B, Cross ES, Jola C, Honisch J, Stevens CJ. Neurocognitive control in dance perception and performance. Acta Psychol (Amst). 2012;139(2):300-308.PubMed PMID: 22305351.

53.       Brown S, Martinez MJ, Parsons LM. The neural basis of human dance. Cerebral Cortex. 2006;16(8):1157-1167.PubMed PMID: 16221923.

54.       Brown S, Parsons LM. The neuroscience of dance. Sci Am. 2008;299(1):78-83.PubMed PMID: 18623968.

55.       Kattenstroth JC, Kalisch T, Holt S, Tegenthoff M, Dinse HR. Six months of dance intervention enhances postural, sensorimotor, and cognitive performance in elderly without affecting cardio-respiratory functions. Front Aging Neurosci. 2013;5:5.PubMed PMID: 23447455; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC3581819.

56.       Kattenstroth JC, Kalisch T, Kolankowska I, Dinse HR. Balance, sensorimotor, and cognitive performance in long-year expert senior ballroom dancers. J Aging Res. 2011;2011:176709.PubMed PMID: 21961064; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC3179891.

57.       Kattenstroth JC, Kolankowska I, Kalisch T, Dinse HR. Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multi-year dancing activities. Front Aging Neurosci. 2010;2.PubMed PMID: 20725636; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC2917240.

58.       Verghese J. Cognitive and mobility profile of older social dancers. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006;54(8):1241-1244.PubMed PMID: 16913992; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1550765.

59.       Kimura K, Hozumi N. Investigating the acute effect of an aerobic dance exercise program on neuro-cognitive function in the elderly. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2012;13(5):623-629.

60.       Pichierri G, Coppe A, Lorenzetti S, Murer K, de Bruin ED. The effect of a cognitive-motor intervention on voluntary step execution under single and dual task conditions in older adults: a randomized controlled pilot study. Clin Interv Aging. 2012;7:175-184.PubMed PMID: 22865999; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC3410679.

61.       Pichierri G, Murer K, de Bruin ED. A cognitive-motor intervention using a dance video game to enhance foot placement accuracy and gait under dual task conditions in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Geriatrics. 2012;12:74.PubMed PMID: 23241332; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC3538689.

62.       Coubard OA, Duretz S, Lefebvre V, Lapalus P, Ferrufino L. Practice of contemporary dance improves cognitive flexibility in aging. Front Aging Neurosci. 2011;3:13.PubMed PMID: 21960971; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC3176453.

65.       Leckey J. The therapeutic effectiveness of creative activities on mental well-being: a systematic review of the literature. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2011;18(6):501-509.PubMed PMID: 21749556.

76.       Carlson MC, Erickson KI, Kramer AF, Voss MW, Bolea N, Mielke M, McGill S, Rebok GW, Seeman T, Fried LP. Evidence for neurocognitive plasticity in at-risk older adults: the experience corps program. Journals of Gerontology Series A-Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences. 2009;64(12):1275-1282.PubMed PMID: 19692672; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC2781785.

77.       Carlson MC, Saczynski JS, Rebok GW, Seeman T, Glass TA, McGill S, Tielsch J, Frick KD, Hill J, Fried LP. Exploring the effects of an “everyday” activity program on executive function and memory in older adults: Experience Corps. Gerontologist. 2008;48(6):793-801.PubMed PMID: 19139252.


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